College is a Desert
College can be a time where we find out who we are. For many students, it is the first time away from parents and the safety of home. Choices, actions, or inactions bare more weighted effects on the student's lives. How they spend their time, how much effort they put into their classes and jobs, choices and actions while with friends, even down to making or not making their own food bares more weight for the first time. That is why I think college is a time when many of our young adults find out who they are. College becomes a time of revealing.
The desert or wilderness seems to take on this meaning in the scriptures as well. The desert becomes a testing ground that reveals who people really are. I think it is important to note that testing is not inherently a bad thing. Ideally, testing is done to gauge how a person has absorbed and understood whatever is being taught. Testing does not have a goal of hoping one fails, but instead, it expects that the person will succeed.
Israel in the desert after the exodus from Egypt is in the desert, and it is a time of testing. God is seeking to turn slaves into not just people, but a group of people to be a light to the world. The books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy tell the story of God’s people in the desert. Do they pass or fail? The scriptures say they fail. Side note: it is important to note that the Israelite people do not fail because they are Israelites, they fail because they are human. Just like any other human the first generation in the desert failed, and their children and descendants would continue that pattern. Despite the failure of God’s people, God remains faithful and kind to his people. The Lord continues to provide, protect, and travel with the people.
The invitation for not only the Israelites to reveal who they truly are but humanity as well is continually offered as a test in the scriptures. As I personally reflect on the narratives of the desert, I find it interesting that God continues to call people hoping to find the test passed. God’s hopes are answered in Jesus of Nazareth.
During Jesus' baptism is a profound experience with the Father as a voice from heaven speaks affirming love and Sonship upon him. The Holy Spirit communicates this love and wraps Jesus in that love. Immediately however the story turns to God’s presence leading Jesus out into the desert. For what seems like an incredibly long time Jesus goes without provision and seeming communication from God. A test is afoot!
At the end of the 40 days, Jesus is confronted with a tester. A character seeking to test Jesus in revealing just who he truly is. Over and over again the tester ask if, “Jesus really is the Son of God?” The test brings up that even the Israelites (also known as God’s son) in the desert got bread once they crossed the red sea from God. So why has Jesus been without food? The test asks the question if Jesus is God’s own then Psalms say that those who trust in God will be protected. Surely those who believe in God will be blessed and protected. So the tester puts Jesus to the test with hands-on practical. Finally, the tester presents Jesus with a shortcut. The real test to reveal not only who he is, but how he will live his life. The tester offers Jesus the degree without learning or doing the work.
Much like the desert test, college offers students a revealing of who they are and who they can be. Parents and society often lead our young adults to this moment, and for the first time, they have to do things seemingly on their own in new and significant ways for the first time. They also have to learn how to trust themselves in God in new ways, because their parents are not taking the same roles they use to. Finally, they have to make the decision to put in the time, work, and energy to learn all they can while in college. Will they slack and not put the effort in, or will they embrace each class with wonder and work?
Jesus, of course, answers from one book in scripture. I find it particularly interesting that at this moment Jesus only responds from the Book of Deuteronomy. The book of the Hebrew Scriptures that recalls the time spent in the desert and comes at the end of the journey. Jesus understands the story he is in, knows the materials, and proves he is willing to do the work. With the students, each part of the journey in the desert reveals something about who the student is and will be even after they leave the desert and enter the big city life, answering their call and vocation. As with the desert students reveal not only who they are, but their relationship with God. I believe college and our relationship with God during this desert time sets the pace for a person's life.
I wonder what is your college experience revealing about you? If your college days are behind you, trajectory did your experience set?